Monday, February 27, 2006

Good Grief!

Grieving is simultaneously one of the most personal and most public things a person can ever be expected to do. Your feelings of loss--and how you express them--are uniquely your own, no matter how many people over millennia have been in your shoes. At the same time, funerals are important because they honor the life of the person, allow family and friends to share their grief, and also mark the finality of the death. It is that intersection between personal and public grief that many people--including myself--find to be the hardest part of losing a loved one.

Oftentimes when we are grieving a loss we want others to grieve alongside us in the same manner; it validates our feelings and lets us know we are not alone. So we wonder why so and so is not crying, is not crying hard/long/frequently enough, or why so and so is ALWAYS crying and can't seem to get their sh*t together for even 5 minutes. Every one of these questions demeans the grieving process by seeking to make it an Oprah show or a Very Special Episode of Will and Grace. Life (and death) cannot be condensed into a TV timeline; they cannot be scripted, and they cannot be coached, directed or executive produced. Grieving someone out of existence simply is what it is...for you, for me, for each of us--in whatever form it takes.

As if you couldn't guess, I am much more on the "I'll cry when I get home" side of things. I'm just not a public crier, not because I'm fighting back the tears but because I simply don't need to cry when I'm surrounded by 30 people. My tears come when I am putting The Bambina to bed and we do our standard evening run-through of all the people she knows and where they are right now, and yes they are going night-night right now too. We do cousins, aunts, uncles, mama, dada and grandparents. And every time I get to Bumpa I now say, "And Bumpa is in Heaven now," which gets me through the next three minutes till she gets in bed and then I leave her room and cry for a little while. Then I have a wee cry in the mornings when I wake up, open my eyes and think, "OK, another day without him in the world with me; I can do this;" then I fully awaken and feel his presence in my heart and head and realize that today really will be okay and I can stop crying now. Rather than hating these moments I am grateful for them because they let me express my sadness in a way that works for me, gradually, honestly, meaningfully.

I know there will be people concerned that I didn't cry at my dad's memorial service, but the concern is misplaced. Looking around the room and seeing our friends standing with us gave me hope that the pain would pass, gave me faith that we'd be okay, and gave me pride that so many people loved my dad. I felt the exact opposite of crying; I felt certain that my father was there with us in the faces and hugs of all of these people, and that he was liking the celebration we'd put together for him.

The bottom line is that losing a parent no matter how old you are quite simply makes you a different person. There is a sense of psychic safety, a sense that All Is As It Should Be when both of your parents are alive. When one or both depart this life you are forced to realize that you are now the grown-up, that you will have to dig deeper within yourself for things you used to take for granted as somebody's child, and that you must create an identity for yourself for the next 40 years that is independent of (or perhaps in addition to) your identity as your father's daughter. The knowledge that I will meet people in the future who will never meet my father is almost unbelievable to me, and yet it is precisely the life my parents--and countless others with them--created year after year without their own parents, and that therefore somehow seems achievable to me. Except at bedtime and in the early morning when none of that seems important because I am simply just missing him.


runner said...

Very eloquently spoken, E. Especially the part about how losing a parent changes who you are. Really well said.

Anonymous said...

I'm a rend my garments mourner, personally. But I support your right to be a when I get home one. Well written piece.